Nearly two and a half decades have passed since the original Star Wars movies hit theater screens. In that time, the saga has grown from the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia into a mythic universe full of stories. It has also grown into a merchandise mega-machine, inundating consumers with action figures, books, comics, toy lightsabers and, of course, videogames.
The success of Star Wars videogames has been a decidedly hit-and-miss venture. After a few attempts in the 1980s, Star Wars hit videogame consoles in prime form with the Super Star Wars trilogy, which veterans of the Super Nintendo system regard as an excellent gaming interpretation of the original trilogy. The X-Wing and TIE Fighter computer titles brought gamers the chance to take control of George Lucas' legendary vehicles in a flight simulator fashion. Despite these titles' dated graphics, computer gamers still brag about how cool it is to pilot the space fighters. More recent Star Wars titles, like Episode I Racer and Jedi Power Battles, met a luke-warm reception from gamers. This might be caused by stigma from the unfamiliar territory the Star Wars prequels cover or because those games felt like titles slapped together to make the merchandising/hype workhorse bleed every penny it could from consumers. History has shown a good Star Wars game depends upon the motive of LucasArts: is it a genuinely well thought-out and well-produced game, meant to expand upon George Lucas' mythic universe, or is it a rushed product meant to accompany the hype of the latest episode?
Factor 5 created a stable foundation with the original Nintendo 64 title, Rogue Squadron. Gamers took control of X-Wings and all other subsequent -Wings in a variety of missions, following a story that takes place between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars fans got a little taste of the story behind the formation of Rogue Squadron, the flight group that had already been established by the time Empire Strikes Back began. Rogue Squadron had all the elements that make Star Wars an engaging experience. It was a character-driven story that expanded upon the Star Wars story.
I was expecting something similar with Factor 5's sequel, Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II. The new title upgrades the visuals and gameplay of the original and even manages capture the sights, sounds and intensity of the Star Wars trilogy. Unfortunately, the new title feels kind of dry, with no cohesive story pulling all the elements together. Rogue Leader plays out missions that span the entire original trilogy. Most fans will recognize the general plot of the trilogy, but the absence of any story elements makes Rogue Leader feel like a bunch of mission slapped together for no apparent reason. It's a good thing many people are familiar with Star Wars, since Rogue Leader takes explaining the significance of a certain battle for granted. I get the vague suspicion that Rogue Leader is merely a showcase titlesomething LucasArts and Factor 5 have presented to demonstrate the GameCube's capabilities.
The original trilogy time frame also hurts Rogue Leader in originality. The recreations of famous Star Wars space battles have never felt or looked better, but how many times have we played through a version of the Death Star run? LucasArts might be overestimating gamers' nostalgic need to play through classic Star Wars moments, neglecting to give them new situations and characters to explore. Rogue Leader has its share of missions not based on the trilogy, but these are hardly original either since they borrow exact situations from the original Rogue Squadron. Gamers will find several parallels between missions in Rogue Squadron and Rogue Leader. The mission on Cloud City in Rogue Leader, for example, plays similarly to the Cloud City-look-a-like in Rogue Squadron.Gamers will also play through a rescue mission similar to the mission on the plant Kessel in the first game.
None of these factors makes Rogue Leader a bad game. If I had to name the most visually impressive GameCube title produced so far, I'd say Rogue Leader takes the top spot. While it might not have any story in place, the title excels in creating an atmosphere that is distinctly Star Wars. The sound of the laser cannons blasting from the wing tips of the X-Wing, the distinct roar of TIE Fighter engineseven the way ships explode is right on the mark. Rogue Leader looks and sounds as realistic as it can be, considering most of the technology in Star Wars is fictional. A gamer will most likely enjoy the time spent with Rogue Leader. I enjoyed every moment of every mission, but I was expecting more than accurately recreated lights and sounds.
Rogue Leader probably will never stand out in my mind as the definitive Star Wars videogame experience. Fans of Star Wars fell in love with the movies because of the characters and the story. I've found that most Star Wars games at least develop an interesting story, if not always the best gameplay. Rogue Leader falls short in developing a story, which sort of breaks the paradigm in what determines whether a Star Wars game is good or bad. Rogue Leader does not follow the hype of any current Star Wars film, but it also doesn't expand upon the Star Wars universe. It sort of hangs in limbo as a title that is pretty, but doesn't hold much underneath the exterior.